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Disabled, handicapped and low-income Utahns attended the Utah Arts Festival free of charge Friday, enjoying the opportunity to get outside and experience a slice of Utah's artistic culture.

Their attendance was the result of the festival's Special Populations Complimentary-Tickets Program, which distributed more than 4,500 tickets to state social-service agencies that aid low-income families and members of Utah's handicapped and disabled population.On the festival grounds, several audience members enjoyed the day's arts and activities from both motorized and manual wheelchairs.

"It's great for them to get out and to experience life in their community," said Leslie Clawson, a recreational therapist for Quinney Rehabilitation at Holy Cross Hospital.

Clawson was in charge of escorting a woman in a wheelchair around the festival grounds. "They're inside all day, and it's important for them to get out in the public and see what's going on."

Clawson wheeled the woman to a nearby shaded area, then went to purchase a couple of cold drinks - a temporary solution to the searing afternoon heat.

"There are new things here at the festival every year that our friends haven't seen," Clawson explained as she strolled to a food booth. "It's the patient's choice as to whether they want to come to this festival. They always like it - I've never heard a negative response yet."

Clawson added that Holy Cross Hospital already has made arrangements to get tickets for next year's arts festival.

Since 1985, the Utah Arts Administration has sent festival passes to more than 11 agencies assisting poor and homeless families. The agencies include the Unwed Mothers Program, the Women's Resource Center, the Women's Program of the YWCA and the Utah Family Shelter.

More than 3,700 passes were sent to Utah medical-care agencies that provide patient care for both the handicapped and disabled. The Utah Independent Living Center, Bun-galow Care Center, Arthritis Foundation of Utah, Children's Special Health Services, Golden Living Center and Alta Care Center were among the organizations involved in distributing tickets.

"This year we were only allocated 3,500 tickets for the handicapped, but we bumped it up to 3,700," said Yolanda Kunder, the administrative intern and coordinator for the festival project. "As a result, we were able to service 79 medical-care agencies. But the tickets were gone within two weeks - there was such a high demand for them."

Kunder said the project is important because the people who qualify for free tickets have tremendous financial responsibilities and medical liabilities.

"I want to help them because they are really strapped," she said. "Oftentimes their disabilities keep them from being able to take a good job. Our project gets them out into the community and gives them a day off without the cost of admission."

During Friday's festivities, the Utah Transit Authority even lent a hand. The UTA provided "flextrans" for the disabled and handicapped as a means of transportation to and from the event.

"I have a handicapped child, myself - so this project is very important to me," Kunder said. "I really like to look out for these people. This festival is for all members of the community, and that includes the low income, the handicapped and the disabled. These people don't normally get out a lot, and it's important they join in this kind of community recreation - as Utahns, they're entitled to it."